The setting was serene, a cool morning with the sun rays starting to win their way through a resolute coastal fog.

There were pine cones littering the ground having fallen from shade trees not long before.

cambriacemetery

Most of all there was a granite marker telling the story of a “mother,” a “wife,” an “artist” and a “writer.” Robin was born on January 24, 1955 and she passed away on July 10, 2005…about three decades short of what should have been her expected lifetime.

Even though I can’t prove it conclusively and never will, I am nonetheless certain that cigarettes robbed 30 years or more of her life. These highly addictive and inexplicably still legal killers deprived my daughter, Allison, of her mother and me of my dear wife of more than two decades.

Both Allison and I repeatedly encouraged Robin to quit, to find another way, to say goodbye to smoking, but there was always another rationale, another excuse, another reason…it was the nicotine talking, the same nicotine that took control of her life…until the end. The official diagnosis was stomach cancer, but I am convinced it was cigarettes.

As I sat beside the grave marker last week in the Cambria Central Cemetery in Central California, a ritual that I undertake two-or-three times each year, I became incensed. The reason was the realization that this repeated pilgrimage didn’t have to be, at least not this early in her life or this early in my life. How many others are going through a similar exercise and coming to the very same conclusion?

Let me ask right here and now: Why aren’t cigarettes banned outright? They kill. They are poisonous. We know this as an empirically proven, peer-reviewed scientific fact. Why don’t the federal and state authorities just say no to cigarettes?

Are we worried about losing jobs in North Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia? Are we concerned about electoral votes from these very same tobacco-growing states? Do you smell smoke, the kind that wafts in a backroom when a deal is being struck?

In November 1998, 46 state attorneys general reached agreement with Big Tobacco on a Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) calling for the tobacco companies to cough up (appropriate verb) $206 billion during the next 25 years. The end result is the government gets bigger (the government always gets bigger), the tobacco companies are free from liability for their murderous actions, cigarettes are sold and people keep on dying.

Just three years ago, Congress passed and the president signed the sweet sounding, “The Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009.” The key was a tax increase on smoking, increasing the federal tax on a pack of smokes from $0.39 to $1.01. This tax is levied on top of the myriad of state taxes on cigarettes, such as $0.80 per pack in Nevada; $0.87 per pack in California; $1.18 in Oregon; $2.00 in Arizona and $3.02 in Washington.

The question is who is really addicted to cigarettes? The poor, clinically addicted people who keep puffing away until they rob themselves of decades of their lives and leaving behind family members way too early? Or the federal and state governments that have tied themselves forever to cigarette tax revenues in order to continue their own addictive spending patterns? Or how about both the addicted smokers and the cigarette-tax revenue dependent governments?

smoking

Think of the irony, we as a nation are providing health programs benefitting children based upon people paying taxes on a product that we know leads to disease and death? How in good conscience can anyone support such a cruel policy?

But if you suggested to cash-strapped states and the federal government finance types that they get off the cigarette tax revenue gravy train, the static scorers in their green eye-shades would come in with some huge frightening number about lost revenues. How about the broken and lost lives that subsidize your revenues and thus your out-of-control spending?

What if we looked at this equation using dynamic scoring instead? What if cigarettes were outright banned? Would the most addicted of the hardened smokers seek their fix from the black market? Yes, they would. Would jobs be lost in tobacco states? Sure, but is tobacco the only cash crop in North Carolina, Virginia and Kentucky. I don’t think so.

What if fewer people were getting smoking-related diseases, leading to less Medicare and Medicaid expenditures? Instead of dying early, (e.g. 50-years-old) what if these people continued to live? What if they continued to be productive and thus contributed revenues through existing tax rates for the betterment of society? Wonder if we still would have a reduction in revenues that would exacerbate the deficit? Maybe this ethical policy would be an actual revenue enhancer.

The bottom line is that cigarettes are evil. We know they are addictive. We know they cause a litany of diseases for those who smoke and for those exposed to second-hand smoke. And we know they kill. How can anyone justify making this product in the face of conclusive scientific evidence? And how can our governments rationalize drawing revenues directly from a product that deprives a daughter of her mother and a husband of his wife?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cigarette_taxes_in_the_United_States

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tobacco_Master_Settlement_Agreement

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicotine

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